NEW YORK Three of the five policemen whose 50-bullet barrage killed an unarmed man on his wedding day were indicted today in a case that heightened racial tensions and renewed allegations that the city s officers are too fast on the trigger.
Attorneys for officers Marc Cooper, Gerscard Isnora and Michael Oliver said their clients had been indicted, but they did not know what offenses the officers had been charged with.
The three officers fired the most shots Cooper, 4, Isnora, 11, and Oliver, 31 in the Nov. 25 confrontation that killed 23-year-old Sean Bell and wounded two of his friends as they left Bell s bachelor party at a strip club in Queens.
The shooting stirred outrage around New York City and led to accusations of racism against police. Bell was black, as are two of his friends who were wounded in the shooting. Two of the officers are white, and three are black.
District Attorney Richard A. Brown said only that the grand jury had reached a decision and it would be announced Monday. He gave no reason for the delay, but indictments are often kept sealed until attorneys and their clients are notified and arrangements can be made for the defendants to surrender.
A person familiar with the case told the AP that the other two officers in the shooting were not charged. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the grand jury s decision has not been made public.
The case also brought back painful memories of other infamous police shootings in New York City, including the 1999 killing of unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who died in a hail of 41 bullets. The officers in that case were acquitted of criminal charges.
Police union officials defended the officers, arguing they were responding to reasonable suspicions the victims were armed.
There was no criminality in their hearts, nor in their minds, when they took the actions they took, Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association, said before the grand jurors decision was revealed.
Isnora, 28, was very upset, attorney Philip Karasyk said. But he is confident that once he has his day in court he will be vindicated.
The grand jury s decision came after three days of deliberations.
Anticipation has been running high around New York City about the grand jury s decision. Extra police officers were put on standby, and the mayor met with black leaders in the Queens neighborhood where the shooting occurred in hopes of defusing any tensions that might arise from the decision.
Whatever the grand jury says ... I think you will see the people of this city behaving in an exemplary manner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said today. They can be disappointed, they can express themselves that s freedom of speech, I don t have a problem with that. But nobody is going to go out and make our streets unsafe.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said the charges marked an important first step in the fight for justice in the case.
Since Nov. 25th, we have battled together. Today is a major step in that battle, whether it will be a step forward, time will tell. But one thing that we can say, if you stay together and you fight, you can do what is necessary to protect children, Sharpton said.
A 23-person grand jury heard the case, and 12 grand jurors needed to vote for an indictment for charges to be brought. The panel includes eight blacks, seven whites, and a mix of Hispanics and Asians.
Grand jurors had been instructed to consider several charges: second-degree murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide stemming from Bell s death; and attempted murder, assault or reckless endangerment in the wounding of survivors Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman.
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